Q&A: Tech sales, to corporate strategy, to corpdev M&A in <3 years

I've had a very strange but fun career path so far and get a lot of questions from peers and friends about the nuances of making such big leaps between such different roles. I also think that it's important for people to realize that you can do a lot of cool jobs without having to go through a prestigious banking or consulting analyst program out of undergrad. 

Ask away!

Comments (18)

Dec 17, 2021 - 11:15am

Thanks for the Q&A. Thought I'd ask a few to start it off.

1. Which industries have you worked in?

2. How was your experience in Corporate Strategy like? What type of projects have you worked on?

3. Out of curiosity, how do Corp. Strat. folks do their analysis? Do they normally rely on some sort of framework (i.e. PESTEL, Porter's etc.) or is it less structured? I'm curious as I'm interested in venturing off into that area in the future.

4. Having done both Corp Dev/M&A and Corp Strat., which role do you prefer, and why? 

Thanks!

  • Associate 1 in CorpDev
Dec 17, 2021 - 12:36pm

1. My sales and corporate strategy roles were in the SaaS industry (traditional enterprise software), while my current Strategic Finance/Corporate Development role is in the deeptech/hardtech industry (very R&D and hardware heavy). 

2. I had a mixed experience in my corporate strategy role. I worked with sales leaders, sales-support functions, product managers, and product suite VPs on a wide range of projects; most of which involved gathering, cleaning, structuring, deeply analyzing, and then presenting very large datasets to help key leaders in their decision-making. Some of these projects were interesting and impactful, while others weren't. I found much of the work to be somewhat bureaucratic and some of the projects often felt pointless; like we were "creating work for the sake of creating work" without moving the needle much. 

3. Corporate strategy is very similar to management consulting, except instead of supporting "clients"/"companies" externally, you're supporting "leaders"/"departments" internally. My group did not rely much on any of those business book/MBA-ish frameworks, as our company had developed proprietary frameworks for approaching most projects. If you're interested in getting into a function like this, my advice would be (1) make sure it's in an industry you're genuinely interested in, otherwise you'll get bored fast, (2) opt for a growth stage or early-public company over a fortune 100 giant, and (3) make sure it's supporting a function you find interesting (don't support product if you like sales, don't support sales if you like product, etc). 

4. I prefer corp dev/strategic finance by a long shot - but I'd caveat this with the fact that I also like the company/industry a lot more. On the M&A side; I feel like I am getting to "have my cake and eat it too" in this role; in that I am exposed to the full M&A process (developing an acquisition thesis alongside C suite leadership, sometimes engaging investment bankers and lawyers, screening interesting startups and founders for technical and business fit, building cap tables and M&A models, redlining term sheets, etc) without having to work in what I personally think is an outdated and inefficient banking culture (staying up until 4am re-aligning powerpoint logos 7 days a week, questioning the point of your existence, etc). I work, on average, about 55-60 hours a week, although there are crunch times where it goes up to 80, and lulls where it drops below 50 (though these are rare). Additionally, some other things I enjoy about my current role: I am in the same meetings as the CEO, CFO, and CTO/founder multiple times a week, I am exposed to budget modeling and strategic planning for all of our major department heads, and I am trusted with a great deal of responsibility at a relatively young age. 

Hope this helps! Happy to answer follow up Qs. 

Dec 18, 2021 - 10:47am

Thanks for the detail insights! I definitely agree on your comment regarding "creating work for the sake of creating work," as I experienced something similar during my short stint in infra corp dev. While these "strategic" roles can sound sexy on paper and you definitely learn a lot, I found myself disappointed at times as a lot of the projects you work hard on lack actionability. However, this could be just my experience, as my company/industry was quite mature (and hence, wasn't actively pursuing M&A), and I'd imagine a lot of tech companies in hyper growth mode would be much more acquisitive.

A few follow up questions from my end:

1. In my infra corp dev role, channels for screening new acquisition targets included talking to bankers, but also looking through CapIQ as a lot of the industry players were public. How do you screen for new opportunities in tech corp dev, especially with most start ups being private? Are they normally through your network (i.e. bankers, founders you meet at conferences etc.)?

2. How modelling intensive is your role in tech corp dev? I've read applying a market multiple on ARR is much more common than DCFs when valuing tech companies (especially early stage), which sounds a bit more nicer than trying to build out monthly free cash flow models for infra projects.

3. How was the interview process like, switching from corp strategy -> corp dev?

4. Regarding your point on "find a role that supports a function you find interesting," I'm interested in the idea of supporting a product, and have been doing some soul searching into both finance and non-finance roles that work closely with product. Outside of PMs, any insights on what some of these roles may be? Just trying to gather some information.

  • Analyst 1 in CorpFin
Dec 17, 2021 - 11:57am

Really cool background! Question regarding your thoughts on corporate development backgrounds… I'm currently in a 6 month rotation in corp dev. It's looking like a full time role won't be available after my rotation. Would 6 months be enough experience to find an external corp dev position if my primary work is related to divestments? Thanks!

Most Helpful
  • Associate 1 in CorpDev
Dec 17, 2021 - 12:20pm

Highly dependent on the industry you're in. I broke into corp dev because I was (1) able to build financial models at the level needed to do the job - corporate strategy provided me with plenty of excel practice, and (2) able to develop provable passion and interest in the industry the corp dev position was in. 

For example; if you want a specific role within the biotech industry, or the blockchain/crypto industry, but you work in Big SaaS or Big Consumer Internet, you'll need to participate in some communities, go to some conferences, take some courses, build a network, write some articles, or anything like that - "provable" passion for the space is everything. 

As far as corp dev specifically; it is generally tough to land a "corporate development analyst/associate" or "strategic finance analyst/associate" role with only 6 months of experience. I'd say you generally need two. You can get away with 1, if it's in investment banking or MBB consulting

Dec 18, 2021 - 11:31am

Why did you leave Tech Sales? Especially at a time where comp levels are lucrative across the board. 

Array
  • Associate 1 in CorpDev
Dec 20, 2021 - 1:19pm

Career mobility. Tech sales pays well but often pigeonholes you in tech sales. If I want to work in VC eventually, or run my own corp dev group, or run my own investment group - I need a broader skillset. 

  • Associate 1 in CorpDev
Dec 20, 2021 - 1:40pm

I'd also add that although commission checks are fat in tech sales, they usually have less stock based comp.

Obviously I'm not getting commission checks right now - but I'm getting some pretty juicy stock based comp. 

Dec 20, 2021 - 6:55pm

Right on, can't knock you for pursuing your interests. Some startups are passing out equity but it's rare. 

Array
Dec 19, 2021 - 3:58am

Hi thanks for doing this!

I will be working at a tech/internet firm as a Corp dev out of undergrad and I was wondering what kind of books or courses helped you gain modeling and financial knowledge needed for Corp dev. would love to hear any other advices as well!

SuperDuper
  • Associate 1 in CorpDev
Dec 20, 2021 - 1:19pm

Congrats on locking in the role out of UG!

You will pick up the majority of your skills on the job so I wouldn't worry too much. You've already got the role!

But if you want extra practice; I'd suggest using the WallStreetPrep full financial modeling course. I dropped ~300 bucks on it all the way back in 2018 and still occasionally study it to this day! Tons of value and well worth it, in my opinion. I'd also check out WSP's fundamentals of accounting course. Aside from that, I'd really emphasize learning the landscape of the specific industry you're working in. You'll bring a lot of value to the table if you have strong knowledge and opinions of the emerging and key players in your niche, and how your company might be able to play out the next few years. 

Dec 21, 2021 - 3:09am

Thank you! Will definitely look into it!

SuperDuper
  • Prospect in ER
Dec 21, 2021 - 3:56am

Seems like you had a fun journey! Thanks for the q&a. Any advice to undergraduates (not necessarily wanting to work in IB)?

  • Associate 1 in CorpDev
Dec 21, 2021 - 4:20am

definitely don't count out IB - it can fast-track you to a lot of cool buy-side roles. that said, pure finance roles aren't for everyone. getting involved hands on in building cool companies can be much more rewarding for some. for undergrad specifically...

general advice to undergraduate would be to party a lot / develop good social networks and social skills, don't get bad grades but also don't overwork yourself in the classroom. the social element of college/youth in general is very important and should not be overlooked. you need to be able to 'hang'. 

expose yourself to business/startups as much as you can - even during the school year - you'll be glad you did. it can expose you to vc's, entrepreneurs, engineers, etc and other people you should learn about at a young age.

depending on your major/specialty, make sure you're good at your measurable skill/craft of choice (that could mean razor sharp excel/modeling, that could mean writing elegant code, that could mean being really effective at running a sales/marketing lead-to-close funnel, etc). 

ask yourself, what do I want to be doing 3-5 years out of college? then go do something that more or less puts you on that path. you'll probably change your mind (i did), but at least you'll be headed in the right *general* direction (it's never gonna be the perfectly right direction; you're too inexperienced to know yet what you like and don't like in terms of full time year round work). 

also just, like, in general - don't take yourself or life so seriously. be chill. have fun. be a top performer at what ever you do - but don't be that guy whose vibe is 'all work 100% of the time'. that's boring. be an interesting person. have cool hobbies and interests and social circles in addition to being good at your career. 

  • Prospect in ER
Dec 21, 2021 - 5:08am

Thanks! I just personally don't find IB interesting, I don't feel like I could put so much effort into a role I don't like (but I will for other roles I am interested in). Nothing against IB, just personal preference.

But again, thanks for the advice, will definitely use it!

Jan 5, 2022 - 4:31pm

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